Stacking – review

Clearing out my review backlog before Torchlight 2’s started.

Still haven’t played another otome game… but finished Stacking, a PC game by Doublefine Games which I’ve been wanting to play. After all, it’s not often you get to play a point-and-click game as a mathryoska doll. I bought a Doublefine pack on Steam when it was on sale, and have 2 other games in the pack I’m yet to play.

Charlie at the Royal Station

In Stacking, you play as Charlie Blackmore, the youngest (and smallest) of the chimney-sweepers Blackmore family. When the father left for a job and didn’t return, soon enough debt collectors showed up at the door to collect the Blackmore children to work to pay off their debts. Everyone except Charlie, who was deemed too small to be of any use. So Charlie stayed with his mother, waiting… until a letter from one of his brothers arrived saying that they had been tricked, imprisoned and forced to work. So off Charlie went to rescue them and to show that size didn’t matter.

Charlie at the Gilded Steamship

Gameplay is where Stacking really, truly shines… and it’s a dazzling shine. At its essence Stacking is a point-and-click adventure, but whereas I usually start finding that type of game a chore after about halfway through, for Stacking I was wishing it’d never end. For the usual point-and-click games, I’d usually start the game excited, learning the system, solving the easy puzzles… and as the puzzles get harder and harder, I’d start following a guide/walkthrough just to finish the game. At that point the gameplay/mechanics ceases to be a factor of enjoyment, and becomes a hindrance instead preventing me from getting to the next part of the storyline. …have I told you what a lazy bastard I am…? No…?

Light shows dolls Charlie can stack into

Also, in lieu of the usual inventory system of other point-and-click games, Stacking employs… stacking. After all, it’s a world filled with mathryoska dolls… Charlie’s skill is to ‘stack’ into another doll exactly 1 size bigger than him, and while ‘stacked’ he can use that doll’s skill. You can continue stacking as long as you stack into a doll exactly 1 size bigger. So for an example, let’s say you need to repair a broken machine… in other P&C games you’d need to find the necessary parts and tool before you could fix the machine. In Stacking, you’d need to find and stack into a doll which has the ‘Maintain/Repair’ ability and you’re good to go. In a way, this makes the game short, but the developers put in extras you can do; more on that below. Note that Charlie could only stack into another doll if the doll has his/her back turned towards Charlie.

find hints by talking

When I started the game, I realised that this game was made with casual gamers in mind… mostly because of how easily accessible the hint system was. Stuck or can’t remember where to go? Hit spacebar and a trail will light on the ground showing you where to go. No idea what to do? Talk to the other dolls around you, they’d have hints on what to do.

Take note of his skill, top right…

Another thing I loved was how each puzzle has multiple solutions (around 3-6). For the first puzzle in the game, Charlie had to gain access into an exclusive club to meet some people… but the door was guarded, and the guard would turn around to face Charlie so Charlie couldn’t stack into the guard. Inside, Charlie could hear the proprietor declaring that the club was so exclusive that if he ever saw a face  that’s not a member he’d kick everyone out of the club. Now, in other P&C games… this would mean you’d need to find a character who’s a member of the club and impersonate the person or steal the membership card, or somehow perform actions that would qualify you for membership. Point was, you’d need to figure out what exactly the developers wanted you to do. In Stacking… for that particular puzzle, I noticed that next to the door there was a vent at ground level, providing ventilation for the club. And nearby there’s a guy who said he’d been having problems with his digestive system. Hmmmmmm…

…unfortunately, I’m a sucker for achievements.

Finding that solution wasn’t difficult, which led me to believe this game was geared more towards casual players rather than hardcore P&C players. And to pass the puzzle and progress with the story, you’d only need to find 1 solution. The fun, however, is in finding all of the possible solutions (which will net you a Steam achievement). And in fact, the devs added a lot of extras you can do in the game. In each area of the game you can stack into unique dolls (each with a unique skill), and managing to stack/find all the unique dolls in an area will net you an achievement. There are also hi-jinx, mischiefs you can commit for no other reason than pure fun (and Steam achievement). Like there’s that hi-jinx unlocked by giving 10 dolls wedgies…

theatrical cutscene

Cutscenes in Stacking served to deliver the story. IMHO the way it’s done was charming, in the style of silent theatre with each action/scene followed right after by dialogue cards. I’ve seen reviews complaining that the cutscenes happened way too often, but personally I found the frequency to be OK. No spoken dialogue or voice over, in case anyone’s wondering.

The plot and storyline stayed fairly simple, with no plot twist or drama or angst… and for that, this game earned a point from me for keeping it simple.

the details in the background

Less simple was the amount of details put into the background and animation. Most of the screenshots I took was from the Royal Station, despite there being other, distinct areas within the game. …I just really liked the atmosphere in the Royal Station. Also, the amount of care put into the dolls’ walking animation… despite the fact that everyone’s basically mathryoska dolls bouncing around, each doll type managed to have different styles of ‘walking’. It’s difficult to explain… there’s this widow doll in the game, and despite the fact that you can’t animate much with mathryoska dolls, I could tell that she wasn’t just walking… she sashayed around the room (her skill was to Seduce). Also, I liked how each loading screen showed newspaper clippings with articles relevant to the current storyline.

…well, this turned out to be a long review for quite a short game. All I can say is… if the company comes out with any DLC or sequel (or prequel) to Stacking, I’m buying that in a heartbeat. It’s been a while since I played a game I simply enjoyed and wished it’d never end. But then again, it won’t be to everyone’s taste, so here’s the trailer.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. starryusagi
    Oct 15, 2012 @ 13:34:25

    “…I’d usually start the game excited, learning the system, solving the easy puzzles… and as the puzzles get harder and harder, I’d start following a guide/walkthrough just to finish the game. At that point the gameplay/mechanics ceases to be a factor of enjoyment, and becomes a hindrance instead preventing me from getting to the next part of the storyline. …have I told you what a lazy bastard I am…? No…?”

    And wow. This game sound extremely interesting! Often I get tired of playing otoges and wish for a break for something new, and this sounds just like the right thing *_* (now, all I need is time… T^T) but anyways that’s interesting, the premise of the game is very different (I mean, mathryoska dolls? that’s not something you see or play everyday xD) and I really like the point & click games too for some reason lol (until they get too difficult and I clock out and don’t want to play anymore LOL) and the idea of mathryoska dolls is just too adorable. Definitely going to check this out!! Seems like it’ll be a pretty short game, which is either going to be a good thing cause I’ll finish it fast or a bad thing cause I won’t want it to end xD LOL


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Just an otome game fan. ...who spends a lot of weekends playing otome games on PC with a Japanese dictionary propped open on her lap.
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